The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Category: Switzerland (page 1 of 3)

Puddle time

It has been raining a lot recently. Every day is grey and wet. The main beneficiary of this situation is Mtoto. He probably thinks puddles were invented for him. Big ones, small ones, deep ones, shallow ones, he’s in them all.

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The other day he was out in the rain with a pal who had less appropriate puddle-jumping footwear – Mtoto wears his fleece-lined winter boots. Mtoto’s friend kept finding puddles and shouted to Mtoto that he should jump in them. Mtoto duly obliged. Cue glee all round.

I’m all for encouraging Mtoto’s love of puddles. It means that he’s excited to go out in the rain – whereas lots of children get conditioned to dislike the rain. Just think about all the negative connotations us adults give to rain, “bad weather”, ” mucky rain”, “a terrible day” and so on. It’s hardly a surprise that our kids don’t like wet weather!

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the right time, the right place

Not quite believing that yesterday’s Black Stork was a Black Stork, I had dropped an email to B, who knows about these things. In part of his reply he said that the Black Stork is “a rare migrant that is flying through Switzerland every year, but hard to see. That’s some being in the right time at the right place.”

Seeing the Black Stork was a highlight of the walk yesterday, a bit of wow in an otherwise pleasant day. But it was just a few seconds, as B says, of being at the right time in the right place.

And so to today, when Mtoto and I went for what turned out to be a 12-mile hike in the Geneva countryside. It was a good walk, taking up a great chunk of the day. And we had another few seconds of wow, of being in the right time at the right place.

We saw a Black Woodpecker. I’ve seen Green Woodpeckers and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers before. I might even have seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker now and then, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it. I had never seen a Black Woodpecker. Until today. I was walking along a track, pushing the buggy. A bird, which at first I thought was a crow, in a hedgerow to our right was disturbed by our presence and made a fuss. It flew out almost in front of us and I immediately realised it was a Black Woodpecker. I only just had presence of mind to take a couple of photos in its general direction as it flew away from us. Undeniably, though, this was my first Black Woodpecker spot.

Keeping up the Black- theme, we also saw a Black Necked Grebe today, as well as a Little Grebe, young Great Crested Grebes, an Oystercatcher and several birds that I haven’t identified yet. We talked a lot Mtoto and I. We sang a lot too. We played word games and we worked on our counting. Today it was the right time and the right place.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.

 

 

Black Stork down

Today, we were answering a challenge. A friend had invited me on a walk, at some date hence, but she said that it wasn’t buggy-friendly. We have a great carrier, an Osprey. And we also have a great buggy, a Mountain Buggy. Mtoto loves the carrier with its high vantage but it is a pain on my back after a while. Mtoto loves the buggy with his front-first vantage but it is a pain on my hand after a while. But the great advantage of the buggy is that walking companions will offer to push a buggy whereas they rarely offer to take the carrier. So Mtoto, Edward and I took the buggy out to Gland to test out the Toblerone Walk.

Sadly, the Toblerone Walk has nothing to do with chocolate. It’s a visual thing. Fearing invasion, the Swiss built this anti-tank defence in the 1930s. It probably should have been demolished long ago, but the story goes that some folk wanted the next generations to know what life was like way back then, so they left the barriers in place, as well as a soldiers’ canteen from 1944 and raised funds to keep them and make a walk alongside them. It’s not as bad as it could be, thanks to the walk also being next to a river and often not next to the Toblerone at all. But could it be done with a buggy?

The answer is that yes it can be done with a buggy, but my friend was also right. It is hard going at times and there are probably about 10 times in the walk when it becomes necessary to carry the buggy, though not for long. There’s the odd flight of steps up or down, a couple of places where the path goes between the pyramids where the gap is rather narrow and the odd bit where tree routes or rocks in the ground make for slopes that even the Mountain Buggy struggles.

The walk starts close to the lake, but as we were coming at it by public transport from Geneva we took the train from Gland and walked to the path from the station. We crossed the road opposite the Mr Bull English pub and turned left past a smart bakery and into an industrial zone. There were diggers, there were cranes, there was dodgy car lots, there were skips. But best of all for Mtoto there was a Post Bus depot. Woo! He’s only been on a Post Bus once, but it has become legendary in our family, so seeing a whole fleet of these buses was something special. We didn’t dwell though and were soon in sight of the Toblerones and turned right to follow the path and the river.

One of the awesome things about going for walks in Switzerland is that as long as you know where you want to go, you can rely on the footpath signs to take you there. As long as you look out for the occasional yellow diamonds and signposts, you don’t really need a map. We had one anyway, the Swiss National Map 1:25,000 Nyon (number 1261). And I had a print out from the Toblerone Line website, so we were well-covered.

The past few months have been tough on us for bird sightings – the dense foliage has made spotting birds difficult and the intense heat has stopped us from going out beyond the Bains des Paquis, the library and the parks in Geneva. But today we had some special moments, though notably they all came when we had gone above the village of Begnins and had left the Toblerones behind.

The first great sighting was when we heard the call of a Common Buzzard but couldn’t see it. Then it came again and again and eventually we saw a buzzard fly off from a tree on the other side of the valley. I could make out a small amount of movement under the tree and with my camera I identified an animal. At first I thought it was a dog, then perhaps a fox. Examining photos later on, we discovered that it was a deer.

Then, a couple of minutes later, Edward saw a bird in the sky. Usually, it’s a black kite or a common buzzard. I’ve got hundreds of photos of them from the last year and there’s rarely anything special about them. But I looked up anyway, focussed my camera and shot away. And then realised that I was watching something different. Edward shot it too and called it there and then as a stork. Consultation with a bird book when we got home suggested a Black Stork because of its size and shape and the colours underneath. But its sightings suggested that it this wasn’t a common location for a Black Stork and especially not until autumn at least. So I sent a photo to B, who introduced me to the Ornitho website and he confirmed it as a Black Stork. So we got a Black Stork down on the list for 2015 and I got a play on words for the post title today, hurrah!

The third great sighting was of butterflies. Lots of them. Several different species. Dragonflies and bees too. I’m not at all good at identification of these creatures so I can’t tell you what we saw. But it was fantastic nonetheless.

Butterflies

At last, after lunch, we got up to Bassins station on the Nyon to St Cergue line. To Mtoto’s great excitement he got to press a button at the station to let the train driver know that we were there and wanted to get on. He also got his ticket validated. We got a train back down to Nyon and another to Geneva.

All in all a good day out. We walked 10.2km in 3 hours 15 minutes, with an elevation of 385 metres. We had a picnic lunch sat upon some logs and looking at two parked tractors. According to Mtoto, a Gruffalo and some bears walked with us for most of the way. But neither Edward nor I were lucky enough to see them.

Geneva on ice

Today, for the first time, I saw a private ice rink in someone’s garden. I know that Geneva loves ice, but I didn’t realise that people had their own ice rinks. It makes sense, I suppose. If you love ice skating and you’ve got the space, why not have an ice rink? It was in Chemin de Beraille, a rather well-to-do address in Villette, on the outskirts of Geneva.

It was a good time to see that ice rink, since yesterday I got on the ice myself for the first time. The City of Geneva operates several ice rinks and for the princely sum of 2 Swiss Francs you can hire skates and get on the ice. You can’t go wrong for just two Swiss Francs.

Except, of course, that not only could I go wrong but I could also go quite spectacularly wrong. So wrong that the last time I fell over, other people on the ice said that they felt the reverberations of thudding onto the ice. The chaps in the rink office wondered if I had concussion. I didn’t, I only hit my knee on the ground, in a rather dramatic falling forward as I tried to reach the expected safety of the fence.

Trying to make it look like I was moving

Trying to make it look like I was moving

Other than having a sore knee and a skin burn today, I’m doing pretty well. Well enough that having watched some videos about ice skating basics, I’m looking forward to my next trip onto the ice rink. The rinks will only be about until the end of February, so I’ve not got long to get practising.

Getting out on the rinks is one of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I went ice skating once or twice as a child. I wasn’t confident and I didn’t learn anything or get the hang of it, so had we stayed in the UK it was something I was unlikely to try. But being in Switzerland and having a child, are two good reasons to try and skate.

Yesterday, as well as my own ice skating travails, L and Mtoto also got on the ice. While I was wearing the biggest shoe they had on offer, Mtoto had a skate with two blades on each foot, which strapped around the shoes he was already wearing. He was also the right size to take advantage of the learning frames that are on hand for children. With some help from L he happily got on the ice. He fell over several times, but never like his Pappa, thankfully.

If you fancy having a go yourself, there are rinks at Bastions and Charmille as well as at Meyrin, Sous-Moulin and Carouge. After learning how to skate myself, my next ice-related adventure must be going to see the Servette ice hockey team in action.

Snowman!

It started snowing last night. When we woke up in the morning it was snowing (still?). But all the views from our apartment suggested that it hadn’t settled. There was hardly any on the ground and car tops were hardly covered. Oh well, we thought, maybe next time. We had a slow morning doing laundry and playing. Eventually I took Mtoto out and boom!

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park

 

There was a lot of snow in the park. Okay, not lots, but enough to have a good time. Mtoto and I went to the tunnel slide playground in Park de la Grange and built two snowmen. Luckily we had a spare carrot in the buggy so we could give them both carrot noses. Then disaster struck. One of the snowmen fell off the slide that we had built them on and fell face first into the puddle at the bottom of the slide. I rescued the snowman and then moved the other one so we could take photos of them and so they wouldn’t suffer more slide disasters.

Snowman #1

Snowman #1

Afterwards, I took Mtoto on a Quiet Time walk and I counted the birds at Baby Plage and Eaux Vives marina. For the second day in a row I saw Common Goldeneyes at Baby Plage. I knew what they were yesterday thanks to my Collins Gem Guides to Birds, which my parents gave to me in December 1984. Somehow it has survived with me this long and yesterday was the first day that I had started carrying it around in my pocket.

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

I got a bit carried away with recording the birds that I see and yesterday recorded sightings on the Jet D’eau jetty as well as Eaux Vives marina, the Baby Plage and Parc de la Grange. Today, I was much more restrained, only checking out the birds at Baby Plage and at the marina.

Snowman #2

Snowman #2

I have recorded all of my sightings over the past couple of days on ornitho.ch. The benefit of using this site is that it keeps a record of all the species that I see, as well as where and I can add photos to my sightings if I wish. At a stroke I’m able to replace the Excel spreadsheet that I was making and my records will be added to the databases that various Swiss ornithological and nature-related organisations are using, as well as ones abroad if I record sightings in other countries. And all this from my striking up a conversation with a birdwatcher in a hide in La Bise on Sunday!

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Janathon: another walking day today, plus plenty of stretching exercises while playing with Mtoto. “Pappa, don’t do your stretches. Play!”

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

Walks with a toddler: La Plaine to Russin

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

“I’m doing a poo!”

It was a cold and largely solitary walk for Mtoto and me today, from La Plaine to Russin. It took just under 3 hours, as we idled along the way. The only point in the whole walk that we encountered another person was in our second hide of the day. A woman had just come in, when Mtoto announced loudly and proudly that he was doing a poo. If he hadn’t said anything, we would have known anyway because it was one of the more smelly ones. The woman left immediately.

There are advantages to having a toddler with you when you go on a walk. You have to think about their needs and communicate what’s going to happen so that they can understand and can enjoy it. Being with a toddler can force you to stay in one place for longer than you might otherwise have done. And when they’re talking, like Mtoto is, you can have great conversations. Today we talked a lot about bitterns and about trains. We didn’t see any bitterns, but Mtoto was hopeful. The idea to do this walk had come to us from B, who we met at La Bise, the day before. He said that when the lakes ice over, it is easier to see bitterns, especially at the hides near La Plaine. Great, I thought, we’ll go there. Mtoto and me had been once before, last month, with Edward. It had been a nice walk and longer too. But we had seen hardly anything from the hides. And certainly nothing new.

Mtoto had been most excited about going on a train. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine at the moment. Edward has an old wind-up train set and Thomas, as far as Mtoto is concerned, is the star attraction. On last week’s walk with Edward, Mtoto kept asking if we could go to Edward’s apartment afterwards. Sadly for him, the answer was no, because Edward was doing a longer walk than us. Mtoto was very disappointed. Mtoto knows all about Thomas. He knows that Thomas is blue and has a smiley face on the front. And he knows that there’s a yellow number one on the side. This part is particularly exciting for everyone, as Mtoto is just starting to know some numbers and letters.

La Plaine station

La Plaine station

La Plaine is the destination for a cantonal train from Gare Cornavin, running every half an hour during the week. The journey takes about 20 minutes and is presumably popular with commuters as it accesses villages/towns such as La Plaine, Russin, Satigny, Meyrin and the Vernier stop behind IKEA. It also serves the Zimeysa industrial estate, where a lot of luxury British cars are parked during the day. The village of La Plaine has little going for it as far as I can see. There’s a single bakery/cafe, a post office, a school, a dog care shop and that’s all we’ve seen in two visits, except for some industry and lots of homes. The playground was not much of a hit with Mtoto today, though he did enjoy the swing and the football court and thankfully someone had left a ball for us to use. Though Mtoto was really more interested in swinging the gate open and closed than anything else.

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

Then we were off to the hides. At the first, Mtoto was fairly patient, and enjoyed climbing from the ground to the bench to the table and back again. We saw a Kingfisher there for a few minutes, then a Blue Tit and Little Brown Job, but that was all, except some coots in the distance. At the second hide, where Mtoto did a poo and had a nappy change, we saw Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Goosander, Pochards, Crows and a Jay. At the third we saw nothing new and by the fourth, Mtoto was impatient to leave. Looking at the time, I realised that there were about 12 minutes to the next train from Russin to Cornavin or we would have to wait an extra half an hour. Not only that, but we needed to get to the station before the level crossing closed too. We covered the distance in good time, let’s say, including a 400 metres or so sprint at the end, making it over the crossing with seconds to spare. Result! And a nice little bit of exercise to count as my Janathon effort for the day.

View from one of the hides

View from one of the hides

On the way home we stopped off in the Cornavin shopping centre for Mtoto to ride the 1 CHF Thomas Tank Engine ride. He loved it, but it was over almost as soon as it had begun. Then we were off to Manor to find a Brio Thomas the Tank Engine and that was 11.90 CHF well spent!

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

To do the La Plaine to Russin walk: At La Plaine station, follow the road eastward towards the village. You’ll go past the bakery/cafe. Take the left turning at the junction. The playground is on the left, opposite the school and contains two swings, a springy aparatus (a ladybird) and a pirate’s ship in three parts with prow, mast and the deck. The football court is just next to it. To get back on the walk turn left back onto the road (or if not going to the playground just continue straight ahead). Walk on the pavement on the right.

After the houses is an industrial site on both sides of the road. Then the pavement ends just after the road bends to the left and you’ll need to be on the road for two or three metres so check that no traffic is coming first. Immediately before the bridge is a path to the right, which you go down. As you come towards the river take the path that branches off and up towards the left. This takes you across the Allondon river and under the railway. At the far end take the steps up (about 10, slightly uneven and with a bicycle wheel chute) and turn right. Follow the path round (don’t take the single step to the right) and eventually the lakes will open up on the left behind a hedge. Keep going along here to come to the first hide, on your left.

Leaving the hide, turn left out of it, then the path soon bends round to the left. Straight along here, the next 2 hides are on your left. Keep along the path to eventually come to the left turn, then follow this up (ignoring a turn to the right, although if you want to go straight to Russin and miss the fourth hide, turn right here), until you reach the end and the fourth hide is on your left. To get to Russin station from here retrace your steps until you reach the path (now on the left) that you ignored on the way up. Take it for a few hundred metres until you reach a road where you turn sharp left. Russin station is now in view and you can keep going on this road until you reach it. If going for a particular train, get there at least 5 minutes before departure time, to get safely across before the barriers come down.

Russin station

Russin station

If you came to La Plaine by car you can either retrace your steps at any point, or take a train back to La Plaine from Russin.

Hide and Seek

As Mtoto gets older, he’s developing his capacity to play games. He struggles to get to grips with card and board games but he’s developing some ability to play physical games, such as throwing or kicking a ball and best of all, Hide and Seek.

I stayed at home this morning to work on a voluntary project while Mtoto and L went off to the Ludotheque (toy library). After lunch we set off together to Parc Stagni in Chene Bougeries. Parc Stagni is a beautiful and tranquil place, set away from the main road and 12 tram route. There are many evergreen trees, which provide a pleasant backdrop for the deciduous trees whose leaves change colour and fall in autumn. This was our first visit for a couple of months and after the heavy rainfall we were the only users of the park this afternoon. The park is home to one of Geneva’s disc golf courses, with five large baskets dotted around the park providing capacity for a 12-hole course. I used to play disc golf many years ago but gave up after realising that I really hated the sport. It was amusing to find a course here but I was glad that no one was playing today!

View of the Saleve in France after the snow line almost came down to Geneva

View of the Saleve in France after the snow line almost came down to Geneva

After Mtoto had tried out every single one of the apparatus in the park, we played Hide and Seek among the trees. Mtoto is in a very enjoyable stage of playing Hide and Seek where he cannot contain his excitement when we play. “Pappa, I’m hiding in the tree cave” he shouts at the top of his voice as I come to look for him. He shrieks with laughter and joy and comes to hug me when I announce that I have found him. Another time, I tried to hide him while L was looking for us. I told him to be quiet but the joy was too great and he let out an incredible whoop of excitement as L came to look for us. When it’s Mtoto’s turn to look for us he watches as we hide and he counts to five out loud, then shouts as loud as he can: “Ready or not, here I come”. And he comes running over. It’s impossible not to smile and enjoy his approach. When we play Hide and Seek at home we tend to play across two bedrooms and the bathroom. Mtoto always shouts out which room he’s in when he’s hiding. I have tried to deceive him by hiding under the bedcovers and when he calls “Pappa, where are you?” I answer “I’m hiding in the cupboard”. But I can’t keep up the pretense as I can’t stop laughing. Hide and Seek with a toddler is a lot of fun!

After finishing with Hide and Seek we were off to engage with some of the public art in the park. There’s a lot of art on display in Geneva and this park is no exception. Mtoto loved hugging the statue of a cat and playing peekabo games with L in a sliced up rock. He also found a large stick in it, much to his delight, though he made sure to return it before we left the park. Finally we were off to another park down the hill, where Mtoto rode down the big slide on the hill several times and I had an enjoyable time watching birds.

2015 birds

A kingfisher landing on a fence in Parc Stagni

A kingfisher landing on a fence in Parc Stagni

Walking between the two parks I saw my first Green Woodpecker and Song Thrush of the year, my 52nd and 53rd birds of 2015. But the real highlights were to come back in Parc Stagni while we were walking Mtoto for his Quiet Time. First of all we had the pleasure of watching a Kingfisher for a couple of minutes at the tiny marsh and pond area in the park.

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Kingfisher in flight in Parc Stagni

Then a moment after it had gone, a Hawfinch dropped by.

Hawfinch in Parc Stagni

Hawfinch in Parc Stagni

Janathon

Today I dropped out of my marathon training schedule for the first time. Yesterday my knees were feeling a little tender and I don’t want to risk aggravating them. I did some stretches instead and enjoyed the walks around and between the parks.

Geneva’s best sandpit

Today Mtoto and I had a brilliant play at Geneva’s best sandpit. And no, we weren’t in Park de la Grange, Parc Bertrand or any of the other fine parks that offers sand play. We were at Baby Plage.

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Baby Plage is so called because it is a beach reserved for babies and children and their families and it has been so since 2007. It is a free beach and the amenities, or lack of them, reflect this. But, in theory at least, it is a place where families can go to hang out and enjoy being lakeside for a while. There are places that do the whole beaches experience better, like Geneve Plage and Bains de Paquis. At Geneve Plage you get changing rooms, water slides and eateries, life guards and a secure compound for your money. At Bains de Paquis you only pay two Francs at the height of summer (or you can buy a membership) and at this community-run venue you get a simple beach (stony rather than sandy), good-value food, changing rooms and life guards. At Baby Plage you get a sandy beach and some play equipment in the trees. That’s really it, there aren’t even accessible toilets (the only ones are just outside the grounds and are underground, accessible only by steep steps).

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Despite its limited attractions Baby Plage is still where it is at for us, a Dad and a toddler. Take today, for example. It was pouring with rain. So much so, that I was willing to go home if Mtoto didn’t want to get out of the buggy. But get out he did and he got on with playing with some gusto. We started with the sand cups (two cheap Migros-bought plastic cups that are easily packed into any day out). I built the sandcastles and Mtoto kicked them over. But he also got into building them, which is something that he has only recently shown interest in doing. Then we got the ball out and we kicked it around the beach. The only rules are that he’s not allowed to go past the fences (including one near the water) and he’s not allowed to kick the ball in the water. Then Mtoto got into kicking the ball into the sandcastles.

Eventually, tiring of the ball and the sandcastles, Mtoto got back into travel play. A train, a bus, a crane and a ticket office later, we had a lovely game going, where Mtoto would buy tickets from me and then go on journeys. There were less materials to choose tickets from than at the park, so Mtoto had to make do with leaves or sticks until I found a bit of bark with lichen on it. Mtoto liked it so much that at the end of the game he put the lichen bark in the buggy to take home.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The play equipment in the trees that I referred to earlier are an interesting project, which I hope Mtoto will enjoy when he’s older. They’re made from recycled materials such as old bicycle tires and were first set up by a local resident, Jean Georges Ernst, and are now being managed by a local association that looks after the condition of the beach. Their website makes for some slightly hilarious (if you don’t use the equipment) reading. As well as stating that the equipment doesn’t reach European standards for outdoor play equipment, they state that on questions concerning the safety of the equipment:

“If your question concerns the reliability of materials and method of assembly we can not give you an absolute guarantee, but we can reassure you by saying no accidents due to the technique has happened to Baby Beach so far. By cons, if you mean the risk to users, in theory, they are innumerable.”

What they’re basically saying is that no one that they know of has had an accident so far, but they rely on people to use their common sense. And the best people who make use of their common sense are children, they say.

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

Mtoto didn’t want to leave but I was getting cold. I didn’t have the advantage of the all-in-one winter suit that he has. As we reached the exit, Mtoto spotted some puddles and launched right in. I’ve learned quickly enough that as long as Mtoto isn’t falling over or worse, he can do what he likes in the puddles. So he splashed and he ran and he got me involved, demanding a stand over the puddles with legs apart so he could go under my bridge, as he puts it. Such joy!

By the time we left, the rain had eased off, but it was time for lunch anyway, so off we went.

2015 birds

At Baby Plage we saw the usual Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Coots, Mallard Ducks (including two males in a vicious fight where they appeared to be trying to drown each other), House Sparrows, Red-crested Pochards, Walking along the lakeside, we also saw two moorhens, who are much less common on the lake at the moment.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.

Janathon

A quick walk to get Mtoto off to sleep in the rain this afternoon, 1km in around 12 minutes. I did my core stretches in Mtoto’s bedroom today. While doing a 1-minute plank Mtoto decided to climb on me. It was funny, but meant that I was carrying his weight as well as my own. Eventually I collapsed on the floor laughing, with Mtoto laughing too and asking his catchphrase question “what happened?”

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

Birds on Lake Geneva

Tufted Duck on Lake Geneva

Tufted Duck on Lake Geneva

There are some great places to go to see birds around Geneva at Lake Geneva. Point de la Bise is one of our favourites. There Pro Natura runs a nature reserve with a two-storey bird hide (including child gates) and a great education centre. Round the other side, Versoix has some great spots, especially where the river meets the lake. If you’re willing to further afield, you can take the train to Prangins and spot birds from the marina. Or take the train to Nyon and then take the boat to Yvoire, on the other side of the lake, in France.

Sometimes all you need to do is go down to the lake at Eaux-Vives. This afternoon, it took a long while to settle Mtoto down for his afternoon nap, but as soon as he was asleep I went for a saunter by the lake. All the usual birds were there, including some Mute Swans, Mallard Ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Coots. And just now there’s a great number of Tufted Ducks and Goosander there too as well as the occasional Ferruginous Duck.

Little Grebes at Eaux Vives on Lake Geneva

Little Grebes at Eaux Vives on Lake Geneva

Having thought I had spotted one earlier in the week, but not being sure enough to note it down, today I saw about a dozen Little Grebes. I only saw these because I walked along one of the pontoons in the marina, so if you fancy seeing something different, I wholly recommend walking among the boats. There are a couple of places like this that you can go to get a different view to the usual tourist view of the Jet D’eau or the Cathedral or perhaps both together, so it is well worth taking the extra few minutes walk if you have time.

Finally, there was one bird that I didn’t recognise and haven’t been able to identify from my bird book. It looks like a bit of several things, but not definitely something. If you know what it is, please do say! Edit: (21/01/2015) I have learned from a birdwatcher (merci!) that the unknown bird is likely to be a White-cheeked Pintail. It is a rare or scarcely seen bird in Switzerland, though already this year over 100 sightings have been recorded in Geneva canton.

The not-so-accessible bird hide on the Rhone

The not-so-accessible bird hide on the Rhone

Janathon

Today, we went for a 4 hours + hike from Tours Lignon to Aire de la Ville with Edward. There’s a lovely hide on the rive gauche just west of Passerelle de Chevres. It isn’t wholly accessible – Mtoto couldn’t get in on his own and needed to be carried or have someone hold his hand.

2015 birds

49. Starling

50. Little Grebe

White-cheeked Pintails on Lake Geneva

White-cheeked Pintail

Geneva Castle

We arrived early at Geneva Castle, around 1320. The year, not the time of day. It is an imposing structure. At each corner a round tower, though only three are fully constructed, and at the front an imposing gate. People could walk along the ramparts between the towers. Those standing guard had fine views towards Lake Geneva, across to the mountains and over the plains. The castle was built on a marshland, so had waters all around it, but with secure paths for entry and two fine moats. We imagined it bustling with activity and life. And just then, we heard a bugle and the gates began to open. We were being beckoned in. Mtoto climbed out of the buggy and onto my shoulders. We two travellers strode into the castle.

Inside, we were greeted by Hugues Dauphin, sire de Faucigny, and his servants. They took our horses and while Hugues Dauphin gave us a guided tour of his domain. As well as the grand walls, there was a house-like structure in the centre, stables and chickens ran freely around our feet. We wandered over to the walls, climbed up and enjoyed the splendid view, squinting in the bright sunshine, but still able to enjoy the sight of the mountains and the unspoilt plains. This will forever be how I will remember Geneva Castle.

No entry

No entry

The trudging reality was rather different. I took a wrong turning on our walk down the hill and to avoid a busier road we had to take paths right round the outside of the castle before we could get quietly to the front. And even then, one of the paths we took, was being used by several cars as a shortcut in their journeys, meaning extra time stood on the muddy banks waiting for them to pass. A couple passed with a big dog, which stuck its nose into the bottom of the buggy and came out with a biscuit and then spat it out. Both Mtoto and I regretted first that we had not realised that the biscuit was there and second that it was now inedible.

We passed a small playground outside a restaurant at the Rouelbeau sports centre, but it looked too challenging for Mtoto. The only point of relief was a pleasant wood carving of lots of local animals such as wild boar, a hare and various birds. It was early, still not 9am, and the light was poor. Much greyer than I was expecting. We spotted the beavers’ dam, but didn’t spot any beavers. If they had any sense they were inside somewhere, trying to keep warm.

The castle is a desperate ruin, falling into deep decay over several centuries but is listed as a site of historical national importance. According to various Geneva authority webpages there have systematic archaeological digs and several years ago there were plans for an educational trail and walk, but there was nothing like that that we could see.

Rouelbeau Castle

Mud

 

However, I came over all Tony Robinson and got into the swing of things telling the story of the castle to Mtoto and imagining that we were there when it was at its best. Sadly, Mtoto didn’t get the vision, not like the sandpit of yesterday. We went up the thick mud slope into the castle keep, or what was left of it. Not enough to satisfy Mtoto though. “I want to go in the castle” he kept crying, “over there”. Over there was beyond a long fence with big warning signs telling us that we weren’t allowed to enter. A lone workman was on site too, forlornly battling with the wind, trying to tie down plastic sheeting that covers the last remaining stone walls and that had come undone and been torn. “We are in the castle” I repeatedly said, but Mtoto wasn’t having it. I wouldn’t let him throw stones in the moat, which annoyed him further and his complaining largely drowned out the sound of the woodpeckers drilling in the trees above our heads. He did at least stop to listen to them for a few seconds.

We probably saw around a dozen Greater Spotted Woodpeckers at the castle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place. We also saw Mallard ducks and a Kestrel, as well as a Coot in the lagoon opposite. Our plan was to move onto the Sionnet marsh and spend some time looking for birds, splashing in puddles and throwing stones in the water but just then a bright light in the distance caught my eye. I looked up and saw the ominous dark clouds above our heads and realised that the wind had picked up. Then came the first rumble of thunder.

We headed for the village of Meinier via Essert, a pretty hamlet. We saw some decaying 1980s cars, plus a very old tractor with a smiley face. There were also a haggle of chickens and Mtoto took delight in telling me the colours of their heads (red) and legs (yellow), as well as their bodies (white), when I asked him what colour they were. Heading out of Essert, we also saw a buzzard and then that was it before the rain came. And when it came, it was hellish. Hail and rain. Hard and intense. Thankfully we weren’t far from Meinier and miraculously we saw a bus, though my face fell when I realised that it was sans voyageurs. But my spirit was quickly raised by ducking into the Pommier Garni cafe, where Mtoto and I enjoyed an apple muffin and a hot apple juices, before catching the next bus back into town. We even had time for an hour in the ludotheque before lunch.

Grey clouds over Geneva

Grey clouds over Geneva

 

Note: The castle is really called Rouelbeau Castle, but since it is in the Canton of Geneva I took the liberty of calling it Geneva Castle so that Mtoto might enjoy it more. As it was, on the bus ride home we passed a house that had been built to look a bit like a castle. “There’s a castle, Pappa”, said Mtoto. “A real castle. I want to go in it. In the real castle.”

Janathon

Apart from the rain, around 2-3 miles walk, over an hour and a half.

2015 birds

As well as the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Buzzard, Kestrel, Coot and Mallards, we also saw a couple of Grey Herons, a Wren, Great Tits, Robins, Blue Tits, Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows, Blackbirds and one new bird for the year, a Collared Dove. We saw one bird that I couldn’t identify in flight, but in the low light my photo was completely inconclusive.

IMG_8432

Sans voyageurs

 

The postman cometh after the rain

The postman cometh after the rain

 

 

 

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